An MVNO carrier provides cell service by using another carrier's network. This setup can lead to a wider range of plans and can keep you out of a contract if you don't want to be tied to any one carrier. It can also be a good way to try out a new network without spending too much money or time moving numbers over. Metro by T-Mobile is the best overall MVNO offering great data options and plenty of ways to save money with multiple lines.
Best Overall: Metro by T-Mobile
Metro by T-Mobile is owned by T-Mobile and uses the T-Mobile LTE network. Years ago, this would have been a reason to pass on the carrier but in recent times, T-Mobile's network has become one of the strongest networks in populated areas. The network has continued to gain ground in rural areas as well thanks to utilizing new 600Mhz spectrum for LTE. Even with all of the improvements, you should check the coverage map to be sure you're covered.
As far as plans go, Metro by T-Mobile starts as low as low as $30 per month for 2GB of LTE data, although a smartphone user will be better off with 10GB plan coming in at $40 per month for one line. This plan doesn't consume your data allowance with music streaming, which can save data for big streamers.
You can also save money per line by adding more lines to your account. On the 10GB plan, additional lines are $10 less and the two unlimited plans are $20 and $30 less per additional line, respectively.
While you can't buy compatible phones online, you can bring almost any compatible and unlocked phone that works on the T-Mobile network, which is most of them. If you're looking for a new phone, you can grab one at a Metro by T-Mobile store.
- Works with most phones
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Multi-line savings
- Coverage not great for everyone
- Can't buy phones online
Metro by T-Mobile
Save with more lines
Metro by T-Mobile is one of the best options for a family with savings for more lines. Add in a fast LTE network and modern phones for a great value.
Best Single Line: Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is a unique MVNO in that the minimum amount of service you can buy is three months. You can get up to a year as well and this will get you the best savings, with the cost per month down to $25 per month with 12GB of data and down to $15 per month with 3GB. There's also a promotion going on right now that brings the price on all plans down to $15 per month for a three month period. That's cool.
Mint Mobile has many of the same network strengths and weaknesses as other T-Mobile based MVNOs, but you should check Mint's coverage map to be sure. If you have coverage, you can expect solid LTE speeds, according to recent tests. If you run out of data or find you need more, you can either buy more at $10 per 1GB or upgrade to a larger plan mid-cycle.
You can bring your own T-Mobile compatible device to Mint Mobile, just be sure to check the IMEI. After that, you just have to order a SIM card and activate it on your account. If you want to buy a new phone, you can. Mint Mobile sells a wide range of phones from high-end to budget devices.
- Save in bulk
- Fast T-Mobile network
- Can purchase phones through Mint Mobile
- Easy to activate
- No unlimited
- Must buy in bulk
Best single line
Buy more to save
Mint Mobile offers a minimum of three months with up to 12GB of data. Save money when you buy more months and forget about monthly payments.
Best for Travel: Google Fi
Most MVNO carriers are positioned as a lower-cost alternative without offering much over the base carrier. Google Fi uses the best connection available from Sprint, T-Mobile, or U.S. Cellular in the U.S. While fewer phones support this full network, if you have a compatible device you should have great service.
Most unlocked phones still work but they will be stuck on T-Mobile only. Luckily, can buy a phone that you know will work with the entire network.
Google Fi has two plans, including one with unlimited data and one where you only pay for what you use. Even if you're not on the unlimited plan, you'll only ever pay for 6GB of data and won't have your data speeds slowed until after 15GB. You can add more high-speed data at and time for $10 per month.
The biggest feature that sets Fi apart is the international service. If you're traveling in any of the 200+ supported countries your data will cost the same as it does at home. You will also get unlimited texts but will need to pay $0.20 per minute for calls.
- Uses three networks
- International data
- Multi-line discounts
- Can be expensive
- Not all phones 100% compatible
Best for Travel
Travel the world
If you leave the country a lot and want to stay connected, there are few options as good as Google Fi. Multi-line discounts keep the cost down.
Best Unlimited: Visible
Visible keeps things simple with a single unlimited plan and a large all-digital LTE network. Leveraging the power of Verizon's LTE network, Visible provides great coverage while letting its users forget about how much data they're using. While Visible customers don't get the entire Verizon network, since they don't have access to 3G or analog service, they do get the vast majority of it. Just check your coverage to be sure.
Keep in mind, Visible offers no roaming of any kind so if you intend to travel to an area out of the coverage map or out of the country, you'll have no service.
Phone selection is more limited with only a few Android models supported, including Samsung's S8 and S9 series as well as the Google Pixel series up to the Pixel 3 series. Pretty much every iPhone after the iPhone 6 is supported however. Phone will, at minimum, need to be compatible with the Verizon LTE network. Just be sure to check the compatibility tool. You can also simply buy a phone from Visible to be sure it works.
- Unlimited data
- Unlimited hotspot (5Mbps)
- Verizon LTE network
- Can buy phones through Visible
- No roaming
- Limited phone selection
Unlimited in the U.S.
You can get unlimited data on Verizon's LTE network for a great price. You also get unlimited hotspot data at 5Mbps to share with your other devices.
Roaming in Mexico: Boost Mobile
There are a lot of people that need to spend time in Mexico or just want to be able to call and text family and friends there. Boost Mobile has one of the best options for this — the Todo Mexico Plus add-on for $5 per month, which allows for 8GB of data roaming per month in Mexico with free calling to and from Mexico. You also get unlimited international texts and free calls to Canada with this add-on.
Boost Mobile's plans without international service are still quite competitive, starting with a 3GB plan for $35 per month and moving up to an unlimited plan at $50 per month. You can save by having more lines, thanks to a current promotion offering unlimited service to four lines for $120 per month. Boost Mobile focuses on giving its customers plenty of data.
One major drawback for Boost Mobile is the Sprint network. While most Sprint customers will have good coverage thanks to LTE roaming agreements, Boost customers won't have this. Be sure to check the map before signing up. You can bring your own phone as well as buy a new one from Boost Mobile. These phones are more mid-range so if you want something high-end, you'll need to bring it.
- Lots of data
- Affordable plan for Mexico, Canada users
- Unlimited music streaming
- Hotspot on all plans
- Less coverage on Sprint
- Few high-end phones available to buy
Roaming in Mexico
Tons of data on Sprint LTE
Boost Mobile stays focused on delivering a lot of data for a low price. There are great options for international service, making it a strong carrier for travelers.
Best for Light Use: Ting
Not everyone needs or can even use a lot of data. Whether they just didn't hop onto the smartphone craze or just want a cheap plan for a spare phone, Ting is a great option. For one, there's no set plan. You just pay for what you use and the prices are competitive even when you use it a lot. It's a custom fit plan every month.
If you consistently use more than a couple of gigs of data per month, look elsewhere. The rates for data can quickly ramp up if you let them. If you use a lot of data, Ting just doesn't make sense.
Ting supports bringing your own phone as long as it's supported on the network (you can check your IMEI on Ting's website). Ting does use the T-Mobile and Sprint network for service, with service being provided by Verizon in the future. While it may seem uncertain due to the upcoming T-Mobile and Sprint merger, you aren't locked into a contract, so if it turns out Ting doesn't work for you, you can move on.
- Flexible plan
- No contract
- Cheap starting price
- Support for many devices
- Can get expensive
- Uncertain networks
Best for Light Use
Pay for what you use
Ting can save a light user money by only charging for what you use. Reduce your usage and take advantage of Wi-Fi to keep your bill low.
There are a lot of good deals with MVNOs that fit all kinds of needs, whether you need unlimited data aimed at the modern smartphone user or just a little for a spare phone. Something like Google Fi manages to pack in extra features for someone that wants the best coverage possible and Boost Mobile is able to offer extras for international coverage. You also get to try out different networks since there's no contract.
In the end, Metro by T-Mobile is one of the best balances in network and pricing for an MVNO. With Metro, you can bring nearly any unlocked phone and have it work on the strong T-Mobile network, including much of the same service a standard T-Mobile customer would get. It's also a nice feature that Metro by T-Mobile still has physical stores so you don't have to do all the setup on your own.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Samuel Contreras When Samuel is not writing about networking and carriers, he spends most of his time researching computer components and obsessing over what CPU goes into the ultimate Windows 98 computer. It's the Pentium 3.